When the Toronto Raptors traded one star for another, it was a big risk for more than just one reason.
Mainly, they weren’t promised that the guy the gave so much for (Kawhi Leonard) would stick around past the season. Meaning, if he left, they would have traded DeMar DeRozan for nothing. They also had no idea how healthy Kawhi really was. After all, despite all the behind the scenes drama, an injury was still the root of the problem.
Nonetheless, the Raps traded for him anyway and decided the potential for gain was worth more than the risk of disaster.
But what if, instead of trading for Kawhi, they sent DeMar to Oklahoma City? According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, it’s a scenario that nearly became reality when the Raptors rang up OKC before the summer.
It’s mid-December, and Raptors president Masai Ujiri is leaning back on a folding chair in Toronto’s practice facility, his GM, Bobby Webster, beside him as their new franchise player runs through drills on the floor. Webster had been the one to kick-start negotiations with the Spurs, and Ujiri had been itching to shake up the roster, even before Leonard became available. (Last season, he approached the Thunder about a Paul George-for-DeRozan swap.) Since Ujiri took over basketball operations in 2013, the Raptors have been consistently good, never sinking below 48 victories. But they never felt great. “I have a mandate . . . to win a championship,” says Ujiri. “You can’t continue doing the same thing over and over again. We gave a chance to [that] team. We tried to build it as much as we can.”
Back then, there was no guarantee that George would stay in Oklahoma City either. The Thunder were eager to keep him in town, and their future hung in the balance of his decision. Compare this to what the Raptors find themselves facing now, and the similarities are clear.
Ultimately, OKC decided not to trade PG, confident he’d stay in town. They ended up being right and freed up Toronto to take on the same risk with Leonard months later.
Had the swap gone down, things would look very different. OKC would have a backcourt of Russ/DeRozan, a duo that just seems like an odd fit. And the Raptors? They may or may not have kept Paul George in free-agency.
Just goes to show how close things are to being completely different. But it also shows how much patience and faith can change the fortunes of a franchise. The Raptors are hoping their own patience and faith surrounding Kawhi Leonard will pay off for the better, much like their West Coast rivals in Oklahoma.